MAGNUM – Reissues

MAGNUM - Chase the Dragon


Sanctuary Records
Release date: September 22, 2006

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Magnum have over the years become a band whose back catalog has probably been repackaged and reissued more times than any other band you care to mention. Their recent resurgence has prompted yet another round of reissues. The main difference this time? Sanctuary Records have really pushed the boat out, giving these albums the treatment that they really deserve.

At the top of the heap is the album that set the Magnum ball rolling, Kingdom of Madness. The first thing to note is that the original sleeve has been reinstated, showing a rather surreal Salvador Dali crossed with an Alice in Wonderland-style scene, and it makes for a far more striking cover than the rather dour black cover, which gained a wider release and is also featured on the inner cover.

Kingdom of Madness comes complete with a whole disc of bonus material, including an alternative take of the classic title track re-recorded in 1979. Also included is Magnum’s debut single “Sweet for my Sweet,” and associated B-side, “Movin’ On,” as well as recordings of Magnum’s first ever sessions dating back to 1974, and outtakes from the Kingdom of Madness recording sessions in 1976. A number of the bonus tracks appeared on the Archive release a number of years ago, but to include them in their correct historical context is a masterstroke.

Musically, the album sees Magnum in an adventurous, almost progressive mood, with hints at times of a more grandiose Jethro Tull, due in part to the fine flute contributions by keyboardist Richard Bailey. The brief acoustic/flute intro to the title track is simply sublime, while the haunting piano and lilting mellotron found in “All Come Together” is magical.

By the time Magnum II hit the streets in 1978, Magnum had moved up a step with an improved, crisper production sound courtesy of Ten Years After bassist Leo Lyons. Again, the artwork features the original cover, as well as the excellent Rodney Matthews cover, which was featured on the later re-issued version.

Magnum II saw the band taking giant steps with a far more polished and professional sound, with vocalist Bob Catley shining in particular. Album opener “Great Adventure” features a superb, swirling, atmospheric keyboard introduction, with almost Queen-like harmony vocals. Also included is stage favorite “Changes,” which still occasionally is featured in the Magnum set, although in a reworked form.

The album sees Magnum approaching the style that would, many years later, reap big rewards. By combining moody, dramatic pomp masterpieces in the shape of “So Cold The Night” and “All of My Life” with snappier, poppier numbers such as “Foolish Heart” and the aforementioned “Changes,” Magnum created an album of great diversity and widened their potential appeal immeasurably.

Bonus cuts include a number of non-album singles and B-sides, including a superior remix of “Changes” and an acoustic version of “Foolish Heart.” Of all of these re-issues, Magnum II is the lightest on bonus material, but fortunately the quality remains of a high standard.

After only two studio albums, Magnum decided that their next release would be a live album, in the form of Marauder. While not quite matching the glamour of Madison Square Garden or Budokan, the album, recorded live at the Marquee, London, in 1979, could certainly stand proud against some of its more celebrated contemporaries. Cherry picking the best cuts from the first two albums, “So Cold The Night” and “Lords of Chaos” benefited from the live setting by providing far punchier versions than the studio counterparts.

The main complaint with Marauder is that on its release it only extended to a single slab of vinyl. Now thanks to the wonders of modern technology, the original 8 song running length has been swelled by an additional 9 bonus tracks. Included alongside the original track listing are the tracks from the double single pack issued at the same time as the main album. Why these were left off the original album is a mystery, as all four could quite easily have replaced some of the tracks that made the final running order. There are an additional 5 live recordings taken from the 1982 tour with Ozzy, which showed up on the Invasion Live album, released some years later.

Next up is the jewel in Magnum’s crown, Chase The Dragon. Although On A Storytellers Night, and especially Wings of Heaven, saw Magnum reach a commercial and creative peak, Chase The Dragon contains some of the best material of Magnum’s illustrious career. In the old days of vinyl, side one contained three gold plated classics in the shape of “Soldier of the Line,” the chilling “The Spirit,” and the Pomp Rock splendor of “Sacred Hour.” Quite simply, stunning. The rest of the album is not too far behind in terms of quality, with the ballad “The Lights Burned Out” and rampant rocker “The Teacher” showing contrasting ends of the Magnum musical spectrum. Chase the Dragon was also notable for being the first to feature a cover painted by the brush of the excellent Rodney Matthews, and also the first to include present day ivory tinkler, Mark Stanway, in place of the departed Richard Bailey.

Again, this re-issue is rich in bonus material, including the double pack “Back To Earth” single, as well as other single releases and alternate versions. You may wonder why there should be three versions of “Soldier of the Line” on the album? Well, each is totally different, and provides a fascinating glimpse of different sides of this classic track. The live version being a much harder-edged, raw rendition than the more overblown studio cut. The acoustic, piano-driven version strips things down to the bare bones, and shows what a truly wonderful song this is free from all of its pomp and glory.

Last up on this round of re-issues is The Eleventh Hour, the recording that all but finished the band off until they rose again with the On A Story Tellers Night opus. The pomp excess of its predecessor was trimmed away by Clarkin, who also produced the band for the first time, opting instead for a more streamlined, simplistic approach. Sonically, the album sounds a little flat when compared to the glossy, Jeff Glixman of Kansas fame, production predecessor, and was by Magnum’s high standards a slightly disappointing follow-up. Don’t be put off however, as this is still a classy number by anyone else’s standards, and contains the trademark melodies and harmonies with “Breakdown” and “Road To Paradise” being the pick of the bunch.

There are a total of 8 bonus tracks on this re-release, including an orchestral version of “The Word” and acoustic versions of “The Prize” and “One Night of Passion.” Perhaps best of all is the inclusion of the four tracks from the excellent Friday Rock Show session recorded way back in 1983. For those with battered cassette versions of this recorded on a mono-tape recorder on the night that it was first broadcast, this should come as a welcome addition to this package. These versions are actually improved on the album versions with Kex Gorins’ drums having far superior, tighter sound, and the backing vocals being more prominent in the mix. Talking of the Friday Rock Show does anyone else remember the days of listening to that show with a radio beneath the bed sheets and falling asleep around the time of the Friday Night Connection? Great days indeed!!

Overall, these re-issues supersede all previous editions of these albums. The packaging is superb, the sleeve notes and interviews informative, the remastered sound is excellent, clear, and punchy, and the bonus tracks are well chosen and add greatly to the impact of each album. Although, in most cases, the bonus tracks have been available elsewhere at some point, the placing in their correct historical context adds to the vibrancy of the albums. Those tracks recorded later add a fascinating twist to the original versions.

Special mention must go to Sanctuary Records, who have obviously taken much time and a lot of effort to finally do justice to these recordings. These re-issues are perfect for those who may have discovered the delights of Magnum at a later point in their careers, and now want to dip back to the early years. For those wanting to replace their vinyl, where better to go than these discs? For those who already have these on CD, the overall package is enough to make it worth your while to reinvest in these five fine slices of English Pomp Rock. If you don’t want the whole set, splash out on Chase The Dragon for the definitive Magnum experience; an absolutely essential purchase for lovers of well-crafted, quality Melodic rock.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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